The first two items on the Coleman City Council agenda Thursday, October 3rd, dealt with the Police Department and Fire Department.
Agenda Item #5 - Second reading of an Ordinance, amending Chapter 9 - Personnel - Article 9.03 - Police Department and Article 9.04 - Police Reserve Force of the City's Code of Ordinances. The Council voted 4-0 to Table this item for now. The Council gave Police Chief, Anthony Smith, until Thursday, October 11, to compile the information and submit it to City Manager, Diana Lopez. "Whatever information that is gathered up has to be presented to our City Manager, say Thursday of next week, not a day later. I think that would be fair because our next Council meeting is in two weeks from now. That gives you a week to get some information together to discuss, but not the day after. I've got to make sure that everybody understands that," said Mayor Tommy Sloan. "I'm good with that," said Police Chief Anthony Smith.
Agenda Item #6 - Discuss, consider and act upon an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2018/2019 City of Coleman Budget for the expenditure of funds in the amount of $42,070.00 to Lone Star Emergency Group for equipment purchased by the Coleman Fire Department and other matters related thereto. The crux of the matter was apparent failure by the fire department to obtain a purchase order prior to ordering fire equipment.
The Council spent almost 30 minutes discussing this matter and Council members were obviously upset. Mayor Sloan turned the agenda item over to City Manager Lopez. "What we have before us this evening is an amendment that needs to be done to the closing of our fiscal year 2019 that ended on September 30th. We're going to back up a little bit in time and we're going to go to discussions that happened in the budget hearing for Fiscal Year 17-18," Lopez said. "For several years the City of Coleman had been budgeting for active volunteer firefighters through a personnel line item and there was a stipend that was given to each member in the amount of $75 monthly which totaled $900 annually. During that budget cycle, there was a discussion with the Council, instead of having that monthly stipend payable to each individual member, the collective budget amount for 30 active volunteer firefighters, would be placed in the budget and a check would be cut to the Coleman Volunteer Fire Department so that they could use the totality of those monies to be able to purchase equipment," Lopez said.
Further explaining the situation, "There is not a line item in the budget, moving forward, or has there been in the past, allocating the $27,000 specifically for equipment. It has been in the personnel line item although discussions prior has been that the intent of the monies was to be expensed for equipment with the volunteer fire department. We have learned at this time that the volunteer fire department has purchased equipment from vendor, Lone Star Emergency Group, in the amount of $42,070. The funds to be able to pay that invoice are a combination of different sources. There is a grant that has been awarded from the Coleman County Foundation for $13,000. We have confirmed that $13,000 has been distributed to the volunteer fire department and it is in an account. The second source of funding was going to be the $27,000 that they had anticipated in the budget. In looking at the membership rosters that were presented here this week and confirming the head count, we are coming up with a number of $23,400. This leaves a balance to be coming from a third funding source, Texas A&M Forestry Service ($15,000). The intent is to pay this particular vendor and have left over funds from that grant account to be used for additional protective equipment in the form of new helmets and boots," Lopez said.
Continuing the discussion, Lopez said "What I'm asking for the Council's consideration this evening is that we proceed with expensing to Lone Star Emergency Group in the amount of $22,400 on behalf of the City of Coleman, to pay the personnel portion encumbered; and, the remaining balance of $18,670 will be funded and paid through the checking account of the volunteer fire department. Moving forward Lopez expects to have a clearer picture as to what the monies should be used for.
Mayor Tommy Sloan - "So the invoice is $42,070 and we're talking about covering how much right now?"
City Manager Lopez - "The City of Coleman would be cutting a check to Lone Star Emergency Group for $23,400."
Mayor Sloan - "So that's going to leave a balance owed of more than $18,000, right?"
City Manager Lopez - "That leaves a balance of $18,670."
Mayor Sloan - "So where does the other (money) come from".
City Manager Lopez - $13,000 is coming from the Coleman County Foundation and then there is a grant that is pending funding with Texas A&M Forest Service for $15,000 so there is more than enough there to be able to cover it. It is believed the Forest Service grant will be paid by the end of October, Lopez said.
Councilman Monte Sides - "Wasn't this all put on a purchase order?"
City Manager Lopez - "It was. The invoice is dated July 3, 2019. My understanding is that is when the equipment was received and put into service. The purchase order to encumber the funds, in the amount of $23,400 was requested on 9-20-2019. "We are addressing the concern with the purchase order coming after the invoice."
Councilman Sides "Wasn't everything set up to stop this kind of stuff?"
City Manager Lopez - "Yes sir, Councilman Sides, you are correct. All of the policy has been discussed continuously and, like I mentioned, we are moving forward in determining exactly how that happened and insuring that it will not happen again. I've said it time and time again. Purchase order first, you encumber your funds and make sure it is in a line item then proceed with invoicing or ordering. We are putting into effect a new type of purchase order. There is a four part form that members of the city staff will receive training on. It is carbon copied, it will require the vendor number, it will require specificity on what is being asked for. City workers will have to sign a form saying it is coming from a specific line item to encumber the funds. A purchase order number will be issued at that point. When the goods are received there will be a form to return to city management saying the city is clear to pay the invoice," Lopez explained. "The core values I expect, and I don't think it should be an expectation, I think it's just part of the job, is accountability," Lopez said.
Volunteer Fire Department Loses Non-Profit Status
Councilman Sherman Smith asked to direct a question to Fire Chief David Martinez - "David, I've been told that our fire department volunteers have lost their non-profit status. Would you explain how that has happened and the reason why.
Martinez confirmed the fire department has lost its non-profit status. "We haven't gone through the process of filing the appropriate 990 forms since we re-obtained our non-profit status in 2016. We haven't done our due diligence through the volunteer side of the house to keep up with the proper documentation to keep that status up. We've, in the past few months, moved within the membership to start using an outside CPA to start looking at keeping track of finances so that we can keep up with that 990 as we re-apply. We've had issues with that over the years. We're hoping that, as we move forward, we utilize an outside CPA to start looking at that financial component," Martinez said. He added that the process to re-obtain non-profit status may take four to five months. Non-profit status is required for the fire department to qualify for certain, but not all, grants.
Councilman Bobby McGee - "I just want to say that I think there is a lot of talk about the Council wanting control. I hear that word a lot. I can't speak for everyone else but I want accountability for everything and some of this stuff that's been going on are examples of where everyone needs to be accountable for everything that goes on because it basically comes back to all of us. So, as far as I'm concerned, we're accountable, I don't like that word control. That's all I have to say," McGee said.
Mayor Tommy Sloan then entertained a motion for approval of the $23,400 payable to Lone Star Emergency Group. Councilwoman Sharlene Hetzel made the motion to pay the bill. There was no immediate second of the motion by the Council. Fifteen seconds passed before Councilwoman Hetzel spoke up. "This bill has to be paid, we have received the goods, the boxes have been opened, we can't send it back," Hetzel said. Councilman McGee said "we've been put in this position several other times, too."
Councilman Smith requested permission from the Mayor to speak. "Accountability, as Bobby said. We are elected to be accountable but I'm with Bobby and I'm just going to stand here and just say no, let someone else figure out how to pay this bill. Someone made a conscious decision to order this equipment," Smith said.
Councilwoman Hetzel questioned Fire Chief Martinez - "Is it out of the box, has everybody tried their gear on?" Martinez said yes ma'am. Hetzel continued. "How long have you had it (equipment) and how long did it take you to try it on and get the bill to us?" "We received the gear in early July. We've been working on this process since July. We ordered the gear in February," Martinez said. Hetzel replied "so, in February it should have been brought to the attention of Diana. I mean if you're ordering something and you know you're going to have to have money for it, you've got to tell somebody. And now here it is, we're the City of Coleman, everything's been unboxed, it's been tried on, we have to pay the bill and I can't get a second. The only reason I want to pay it is just because we're the City of Coleman. We have to pay it," Hetzel said.
City Manager Lopez then addressed the Council. "As City Manager, I have began the steps to get formal documentation and answers into what has been brought forward, not just the invoice but concerns with the loss of the non-profit status," Lopez said. "As your City Manager what I will tell you this evening is, as soon as that process is wrapped up, absolutely, if someone is to be held accountable, they will be held accountable," Lopez said. She added she expects her staff to understand and respect the commitment this Council has to their taxpayers and the commitment city staff has to the community.
Mayor Tommy Sloan - "There's no question, the equipment is very much needed. It's just the principle is the problem. At the last Council meeting I made a comment, we want accountability in all departments. I don't know how we can make it any more clear than that. I don't need to get up on the table and do any back flips to make a point. All we want is accountability," Mayor Sloan said. Mayor Sloan continued by saying "I want David and Cory (volunteer in attendance) to know there is appreciation for the department, it's not that. We need everybody to understand in all of the departments so tomorrow and next week, everybody needs to talk about what happened at this Council meeting this evening because everybody needs to understand we want accountability."
With one final request for a second of the original motion by Councilwoman Hetzel to pay the bill, Councilman Sides made the second and the Vote carried 4 for, 0 against. The bill was paid.